August 16, 2016

The Art of Communicating with a Senior

Whether you’re a caregiver or family member, you may find it hard, at times, to communicate with the elderly. Engaging in conversation is something we do not pay much attention to. However, there are many factors with seniors that create barriers to everyday conversation, including hearing loss, mental illness, and cognitive decline. This makes it crucial to pay attention to the tone and volume of one’s voice, and how questions or topics are phrased. There is much we can learn by speaking to our elders. Here are five tips to help get the conversation with your loved ones and those you care for going.

Give your full attention.
Nothing is more important than showing that you are fully engaged with what is being said. It can be difficult for others to speak due to physical impairments associated with the effects of aging. By being patient and giving someone your full attention, it shows that you genuinely care and provides a sense of comfort for those you are conversing with.

Focus on one topic.
Pick a topic to discuss that is interesting to both parties and stick to it. Topics that both participants can relate to are the best choices, such as family, hobbies and special interests. Casual topics, such as current events, recent news or what the person did that day are great conversation starters as well. Once the conversation does begin, stick to the topic being discussed – quickly jumping back and forth between topics can be confusing and can cause miscommunication. Be especially focused when speaking with those who suffer with mental illnesses, such as dementia, as they may forget what topic was being communicated and start to jump between things. Reminding them of where the conversation was and keeping the scope of the conversation narrow will help them stay on track and fully engaged.

Let the person speak free of interruption.
Being heard can make a person feel important and more relaxed. There is something therapeutic about getting whatever has been swirling around in your mind, or an exciting piece of news, out of your head and into the ears of others. A common thread of many conversations with the elderly is sharing memories. For some, recalling memories can surface hidden emotions or other feelings. If it does, it is important to be sensitive and caring, and let them express how they feel without being judged.

Don’t over complicate sentences or answers by drawing them out.
Keep your reply short enough to grab their interest, speak clearly and make sure you are able to be heard. It helps to face the person you are talking to so that they can read the movement of your lips as well.

Ask the right questions.
Keeping your audience in mind is paramount to clear communication. Especially, when speaking to those suffering from dementia or alzheimer’s – instead of asking open ended questions, narrow it down to a few options. For example, instead of asking someone what they want to eat, offer them a sandwich or salad instead. By offering only a few options it allows them to focus on the task at hand and reduces the risk of the person becoming upset if something they requested isn’t readily available.

Communication with those we love or take care of is a key component of everyday life. As people age it may become more difficult for them to engage in conversation. Speaking clearly, practicing patience, and allowing the person you are speaking to be heard engenders trust and appreciation; it can allow us to connect on a meaningful level and provide a way for seniors to pass along wisdom and knowledge.